Sun Feb 25, 2024
February 25, 2024

Mobilizations in Tunis expose the weakness of the regime


 Latest protests in Kasserine, Tunis, have expanded to different regions of the country. After 5 years of the allgedly “victorious” revolution, why have the revolts started again? Why are the youth and workers raising for? What are the perspectives on the conflict? What are the limits of the Coalition government? How should the world left position about it? Some of the questions the following article will try to respond.

During the last weeks, Tunis was shaked by a wave of protests with its center in Kasserine region, the poorer one of the country, together with Sidi Bouzid. Kasserine has a rate of unemployment of about 30%, more than twice the natioal rate (15%). According to Santiago Alba Rico, “Kasserine’s revolt has expanded to Sidi Bouzid, Tala, Meknassi and Kairouan, the regions where 2011 revolution emerged, and has then reached, as an explosive wave, the North and South, taking the whole country”.[1]


Located on this region we found the mining area of Gafsa, producing phosphate, which is the main economical activity of the country, together with turism and petroleum. The protests’ booster was, like in miners’ revolt of 2008 and in 2011 revolution, a desperate individual action of a young unemployed man. Ridha Yahyaoui, 26, climbed a tower of electricity and died by electrocution, protesting against the removal of his name by Kasserine’s authorities, of the list of people to access public jobs.

Unemployment has not stopped increasing since the revolution which overthrow Ben Ali in 2011, and after two “post revolution” governments, one member the Islamist party Ennahda, and the current one, part of the coalition between Nida Tounes (a “secular” party conformed by former representatives of the dictatorial regime) and Ennahda itself. The 15% of the active population is unemployed, a third of it being young universitaries recently graduated. In 2010, the unemployment rate was around 12%.

Ennahda as much as Nida Tounes, during their respective administrations, have not changed by a milimeter the depending, uneven economical estructure of the country, the corruption of the old ‘chiefs’, the lack of investment in public services or the social abism between poor and rich people. They have signed agreements with IMF and the World Bank which only helped sufocating even more the slowdown of Tunis economy. Public Debt reached 60% of GDP, and public deficit reaches 5%. Since 2011, the country had an income of over 3.000 million euros in loans, which are not used to palliate the suffering of the people, but to tie the economy to the interests of the international bank through the nefarious mechanism of public debt, instead. IMF imposes, in exchange for the loans, the implementation of severe austerity policies.

The first reaction of president Beji Caït Essebsi was to ask the population to keep calmed,, then he promissed to create, out of a miracle, in just a few weeks, around 5 thousand new job spots, besides implementing the curfew. Finally, he covertly located groups of hired thugs inside the protests to perform acts of vandalism, according the several activists groups. The goal was to criminalize the struggle and link it to the terrorist attacks recently seen. Right now the situation seems to be calmed, but no one can ensure confrontations will not take place again during next weeks.

Essebsi, who had already ruled the country for a short period immediatly after Mohamad Ghannouchi’s fall (the one who replaced Ben Ali), in February 2011, is a politician strongly bonded to the old regime. He is in charge of an executive power conformed jointly with Ennahda. By assuming the government, he fixed the following priorities: the antiterrorist law, funding agreements with international institutions, development and price suppression policies -the current inflation reaches almost 6% (source: El País).

Behind the recent protests we can see the same factors which originated the rises of 2008 and 2011. Like in Tunis revolution, the lack of leadership and its espontaneous nature are the sign of the current rise.

UGTT (French: Union Générale Tunisienne du Travail) is the main Union of Tunis. During the revolution, it played the sad part of restraining the protests and act like the safety fence between the masses and Ben Ali’s regime. January the 17th, UGTT nominated  three representatives to a government led by the former Prime Minister of the dictator (Ghannouchi). The decision caused a true revellion on its bases, which forced the leaders of the Union to change their official position, leave the government and present the proposal of conforming the National League for the Protection of the Revolution (NLPR). Far from working as a counterpower to the regime, the NLPR worked like a straitjacket to local committees which emerged during the first months of the revolution.

From NLPR, UGTT supported the government of Essebsi, current president of the country, which had replaced Ben Ali after his resign, who started negotiating a transition respecting integrally the legitimity of the interine government. Essebsi then founded a new organism, of advisory capacity, the Superior Instance, incorporating the UGTT and NLPR.

During the current protests, the UGTT once again called to remain calmed, while repeating the national priority must be the fight against terrorism. UGTT had just signed an agreement, called “social contract”, with the bosses’ union, wich forecasts dismissals and changes in the labour registration.

For its part, the most important Left opposition party, the Popular Front, created in 2012 in the context of the revolution, limited to make proposals to Essebsi’s government, acting like as a mere counselor to the Executive. This is an organization similar to Syriza and Podemos, in Greece and the Spanish State respectively, obviously of specific propotions. Dominique Lorouge, member of French NAP [New Anticapitalist Party], describes Popular Front like this, on an article published in Reveillon’s web, in May 2015:

After a first ephemeral atempt, after January 14th, 2011, the main left forces re-agroupated in October 2012, under the name of Porpular Front. There are, on it, tendencies coming from marxism-leninism, trotskysm, Arab nationalism and socialdemocracy. On the other hand, a great number of militants, men and women, of the Front, are personally part of UGTT, UGET (student’s union), and several associations. The Front has, as its glue, a common struggle tradition of its founders against Ben Ali’s dictatorship, even Burguiba, and a will of ending the tradition of dispersion of the left, as much as to achieve the social demands of the revolution. The central policy of the Front was to simlutaneously struggle against both neoliberal tendencies back then fighting for the power: the Islamists of Ennahda (rulling the country in 2012-2013) and the “modernists” of Nida Tounes, trying to replace them”.[2]

Unfortunately, they [the Popular Front] are losing a major opportunity to reactivate, in an organized and plannified way, a second phase of the revolution. The role of a revolutionary party must be to escort Tunis’ workers during its experience with the current neoliberal, bourgeois regime, headed by the coalition of Nida Tounes and Ennahda, on one side, and to drive and provide the struggles with an anticapitalist program, on the other side, but not to give advises to the government to “stabilize the situation”. Instead of boosting the mobilization and auto-organization of the masses, they act to deviate the process toward elections. This happens because of its evident electoral nature. By taking the oppressed masses’ aspirations of change to the dead end of elections, which take place on a filed dominated by the economical powers and big capitals, they follow Syriza’s steps in Greece. We already know the result.

The Porpular Front elected near 15 representative suring the last elections, in 2014. They have had strong elections in the poorer regions of the country, where the revolts which originated the “Arab Spring” emerged, and in Ben Arús, region of the capital with the main industrial pole of the North of the country.

The current government is conformed, as said before, by a colaition between two brougeois parties. Nida Tounes, an organization representing the old regime but recicled, and Ennahda, linked to political Islamism, strengthened after the Ayatollahs’ victory in Iran. Ennahda was the party to better capitalize, in a first moment, the re-opening of democracy in the country, winning the first elections after Ben Ali’s fall. Due to its neoliberal economical project, very similar to what Ben Ali used to implement previously, it lost an important part of its electoral strength, becoming the second most important political force.

Tunis’ way

Tunis is a very particular case among the so called “Arab Spring” revolutions. The majority of political analysts and left tendencies believe in Tunis “the revolution succedeed”. This understanding is completely wrong. It is true in Tunis, unlike in Libya, Egypt and Syria, the revolution got to change the regime, but it did not change the nature of social relations in the country, as the economy is still controlled, ultimately, by the imperialism, specifically the European, relying on a week owners’ class inside Tunis.

The old regime, the European and North American imperialism, and the Islamist forces, have managed to negotiate a different outcome to the process. The establishment of an bourgeois democracy, extremely weak and limited, which actually meant a major achievement after 30 years of military dictatorship: the implementation of a more or less ‘free’ election. Elections controlled byt the economical power and the old apparatus, which allowed though for some left, independent gorups to present autonomously. Not by chance the Popular Front got 15 representatives during last elections.

The elections inevitably generated a period of truce and illusion for the masses who featured the revolution of 2011. However, by not resolving the real problems hitting the country (poverty, corruption, repression and unequalty), they did not provide, in fact, a true solution to most part of the population, specially the poorest workers and the impoverished middle classes. The generational aspect had a major role, and also the use of social networks, which cannot be underestimated. This tool we call “democratic reaction” was used in other revolutionary processes over the last decade, specially in Latin America, but also in other parts of the world.

The recent protests indicate a deepening of the social conflict in the small Mediterranean country. For how long will the workers’ wait? How will the left forces who call themselves inheritors of the revolution react? These are the great questions to respond.


For the nationalization of phosphate mines!

NO to the payment of the Debt to IMF, WB and the International Bank!

NO to austerity plans! For a social emergency plan to create jobs, increase salaries and guarantees basic rights to the population!

Against the repression to strugglers!

Prision to the corrupts, and nationalization of the corrupted companies!

Down with Essebsi! Down with Nida Tounes and Ennahda!

The Tunis revolution continues!






Originally published in 

Translation by Sofia Ballack

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